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Teacher lets field trip go to the dogs

Kids head to Palmetto to meet guides for blind people and to get a taste for volunteering.

By DONNA WINCHESTER, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 23, 2002

Kids head to Palmetto to meet guides for blind people and to get a taste for volunteering.

A teacher's love for animals and children dovetailed Tuesday at a training facility for guide dogs 25 miles south of St. Petersburg.

Kim Purrelli, a teacher at Pasadena Fundamental School, took her fifth-graders on a field trip to Southeastern Guide Dogs, a nonprofit center in Palmetto that trains dogs for the blind. The idea, Purrelli said, was to help the animals get used to humans and to teach the children about people with disabilities.

"We're looking at different ways we can give back to the community and provide community service," she said. "This particular class loves animals so much. The guide dog foundation seemed like a natural thing to do."

The children spent two hours learning about the 24-acre facility that includes birthing suites and kennels as well as dormitories for blind students who come to train with the dogs. About 150 guide dog teams -- a blind person and a guide dog -- graduate from the center each year.

The Pasadena Fundamental students also spent time "socializing" with dogs in various stages of training. Amanda Lancaster, Southeastern's youth volunteer coordinator, said the interaction is a necessary part of the dogs' training.

"It's important because they're going to be encountering kids in their daily lives," she said. "The earlier you can expose the dogs to them the better."

Purrelli hopes the trip will encourage her students to do volunteer work on their own.

"One of the big things I want the kids to realize is how important it is to give back to the community and to show compassion for those who may not be as fortunate as they are," she said.

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